My friends are here to ride dirt bikes, the route I’ve picked is for a cyclocross bike, but what I’ve got with me is a road bike and so I use that and beat the crap out of it and feel pretty guilty. Perhaps because I’m already anthropomorphizing the Cannondale, the heat in the strangely silent Gold Country canyons seems somehow sentient as well—at the least, the furnace breath of a sleeping dragon under the dusty oaks.
It’s a long climb out of the ravine, shotgun shells and shrill private-property signs in typeface from the 50s or spray paint on plywood. I’m sure the route is trendy as a group ride but it’s creepy alone, plus I’m short a few gears and not fit enough to drop the mosquitoes. Back at camp a few too many hours later I’m acting like I’m excited for burgers … but really I’m just glad to see people who haven’t expressed a willingness to shoot me in writing.
After dinner we’re looking out over the lake in the dark. Someone points to the mirrored image of the pine trees on the opposite shore; someone else notes the surface of the water is so still it’s also and even reflecting the stars. I’ve been staring up at them—there are lots, compared to home—but now I drop my head and step to the edge of the shore. When I look into the lake I find to my amazement that there isn’t one, that instead I’m peering down at the lights of a distant city a thousand feet below.
It’s the effect of standing on a cliff edge; it’s uncanny, vertiginous. My stomach floats and my hands tingle. I back away and the lights disappear; I return again and they twinkle up at me as before. I do this over and over again for a good half-hour and every time am afraid the hidden city will have disappeared. It’s very hard to walk away and go to sleep.
I don’t know many nights I’ve looked into a lake before, what collision of conditions flips empty air into them or whether it’s rare. But I think what I saw at the bottom is the light of what I want to believe most—that there is more to find, and further, that those things might be anywhere.